For the next two days, the Los Angeles Lakers will stew in their own juices after dropping the first two games of their Western Conference semifinals series with the Dallas Mavericks in the comfort of their own home, conceding home-court advantage and digging themselves a dangerous 0-2 hole. When they take the court to right the ship in Game 3 on Friday night, they
may well will do so short-handed, because Ron Artest chose to take a shortsighted swipe at J.J. Barea in the closing seconds of a since-conceded game, providing an ugly ending to a two-game homestand that didn't really need any more ignominy from the Lakers.
UPDATE (4 p.m. ET): Per the official Twitter feed of the NBA public relations and communications team: "LAKERS F RON ARTEST SUSPENDED ONE GAME WITHOUT PAY FOR SWINGING HIS ARM AND STRIKING THE FACE OF MAVS G J.J. BAREA. ARTEST TO SIT OUT GAME 3." Yahoo! Sports NBA Editor Johnny Ludden has the story.
Artest actually started to get rough-and-tumble before the play that's drawing all the highlight attention. With two minutes remaining and the Mavs holding an 11-point lead, Artest and Dallas forward Shawn Marion chased down a long rebound of a Derek Fisher 3-pointer. As the ball traveled to the short corner, Artest reached for the ball with his right hand and shoved Marion into the Mavericks bench with his left, picking up a loose-ball foul and sending Marion to the line for two shots, extending the Dallas lead to 13.
A little over a minute later, with Los Angeles trailing 90-76 and 28 seconds of garbage time remaining, Artest hit a pull-up 3-pointer in transition to cut the eventual margin of victory. On the ensuing inbounds, Mavericks reserve J.J. Barea attempted to beat Lamar Odom off the dribble and make his way into the frontcourt to dribble out the clock. His path to the timeline crossed Artest's. Artest's right arm crossed Barea's face and neck. The referees, in turn, crossed Artest's name off the list of players who'd be allowed to finish the game, ejecting him for the clothesline and sending him to the locker room to watch the final half-minute of the Mavericks' 93-81 road victory.
TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith initially took opposing views when discussing the play after Game 2, with Barkley adamant in the belief that Artest would be suspended for Game 3, while Smith thought the Lakers forward would merely receive a fine. (Later in the postgame show, Smith changed his tune and said he thought Artest would be suspended, though he disputed Barkley's argument that Artest essentially punched Barea in the face.)
In his postgame comments, Lakers coach Phil Jackson agreed with the Chuckster's assessment. From Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Times:
After watching a clip of Lakers forward Ron Artest clothesline Dallas guard Jose Barea in the closing seconds of the Lakers' 93-81 Game 2 loss Wednesday to the Mavericks, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson conceded there's a "good chance" Artest will be suspended for Game 3 on Friday.
"It's uncalled for," said Jackson, a rare admission considering he often argues on his players' behalf when certain ejections shouldn't result in a suspension. "It's a good chance he'll be suspended, but I hope not."
Artest's late-game outburst came after two games of rough sledding in which he failed to contribute much of anything to the Lakers cause, even on defense. It's understandable that he's not having much success when matched up against Dirk Nowitzki — at this point, who the hell is? But he's just 5 for 18 from the floor in this series, including a 1-for-7 mark from long range (his only make being the garbage-time triple that preceded his crossface on Barea), and he's been outperformed at the three-spot thus far by Shawn Marion. Playing with an edge when you're also giving your team tangible contributions is one thing; playing over the edge when you're giving your team next to nothing is unforgivable.
From a non-partisan fan standpoint, the saddest thing about Artest's swat on Barea is that it enables the easy reversion to the long-dominant narrative of Ron Artest as an unbalanced loose cannon who mostly just visits violence on other people.
Immediately following the foul, TNT color commentator Steve Kerr said that Artest, "at the end of these games, is always a fuse just waiting to be lit." After the game, Barkley claimed to have predicted in the green room that Artest was "about to do something crazy" several minutes before the play unfolded. And of course he did; it's easy to say that, especially when you've got something that just happened to point to and say, "See? I told you so!"
But while I think we can all agree that this particular brand of reaching out and touching somebody is not OK, all the recent evidence — before this two-minute stretch, at least — seems to point to the contrary.
Artest had six technical fouls, one flagrant and one disqualification during the regular season, a lower number in each category than such noted psychopaths as Aaron Brooks and David Lee. We've talked at length about his efforts to improve his own mental health and convince others that it's OK to try to improve theirs. He won the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award this year, for cripes' sakes.
Now, though, because he did a dumb, unnecessary thing in a nationally televised game during the postseason, the lion's share of onlookers are likely to go on thinking that you can't change your stripes, that Ron Artest is a simple-and-plain thug, and that the last 6 1/2 years haven't actually seen any progress. And that's seriously a shame.
Most of the time, Ron Artest ranks among my favorite things. But sometimes, your favorite music ... well, it just makes you sad. I'm betting there are some Lakers fans that feel the same way this morning.
Original video via Ben Golliver.